Judie Rae: The function of higher education
Manny Montes, in his August 28 “Other Voices” column contends that college students have been and continue to be indoctrinated. I take issue with such an assertion. With the exception of fundamentalist institutions whose agenda is to promulgate a narrow world view, the purpose of a college education is to teach a person how to think, not what to think. To that end students learn to recognize logical fallacies and to create argument devoid of errors in reasoning. They learn not to argue by calling others names or by the use of hasty generalizations. They learn not to bring up irrelevant points to divert a reader’s attention from the main issue. They learn not to use faulty analogies.
They also learn how to ferret out the source of material; they learn how to distinguish between fact and lies, no doubt a frightening skill to some whose intent is less than moral. Perhaps the fear is that given the chance and free of the rhetoric of those who distort fact to their own ends, an educated populace will make decisions to the benefit of all people.
Students learn a historical perspective; they learn to distinguish between truth and belief. They even learn the proper use of the semi-colon. A college student learns to define her terms. As example of not doing so, Mr. Montes states, “Any right- minded person knows …” What the heck is a right-minded person? A Buddhist? An S.S. guard? A pointy-headed intellectual, or someone who simply agrees with you?
College students learn how to read critically. They are taught that if they read “The New Republic,” they should also read “The National Review.” If they read “The Wall Street Journal,” they also read “The Washington Post.” In other words, they are open to entertaining many points of view, and with the skills learned in school, they are able to evaluate critically; they are able to discern between fact and opinion.
A higher education gives people the ability to distinguish between subversive discourse, the hogwash of those who simply yell the loudest, and between what is true and accurate.
I bring to this piece the bias of a person who proudly taught for almost 30 years in various colleges and universities in California. At no time did I ever witness the use of indoctrination techniques on the part of any of my colleagues. That such a possibility exists, I believe, would be small indeed. Instead, I saw professors eager to share knowledge, which is their function, instructors working after hours, meeting students in libraries and cafeterias to ensure that their charges succeeded. I saw students who overcame enormous obstacles in order to better their lives. Many of those students shared with me their stories. A few had been homeless. A few worked to overcome drug and alcohol addictions. Some were working parents who came to class exhausted, though eager to learn. A few were disabled. Some had suffered enormous losses and still they shined. They came seeking their passions, their potential, their purpose. They came to make the world a better place, not only for themselves, but for their families, for their communities.
And each time they succeeded, those people taught me. They taught me to value the incredible power of the human spirit; they taught me to honor the uniqueness of each individual. And yes, they taught me to love the potential in every single one of them.
Indoctrination? I don’t think so. Rather, higher education is access to a world bigger than ourselves. It’s access to the possible, if only we dare.
Judie Rae lives in Nevada City.
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